Image of three tubes of toothpaste with some squeezed out. Text reads: toothpaste on the carpet and its link to the teen/parent relationship

The toothpaste on the carpet and its link to your future parent/teen relationship

I just spent around 3-4 hours a day for the last 2 weeks decorating the hall in our new house, it’s my dream hallway, spacious and bright with lovely woodwork and I have worked SO hard on it. 
So imagine the feelings that came bubbling up when my son (6) dropped a huge blob of toothpaste on the 2 day old carpet 🤦‍♀️
Did I…
A) Lose my proverbial 💩 and shout at him, remind him how only the night before I had warned him to stay in the bathroom whilst brushing his teeth.
B) Force him to clean it up immediately, whilst reminding him what a stupid thing it was to do and take away his favourite toy/TV for a week. 
C) Count to 100 and wait…. and do something different…
What happened next is an example of how peaceful parenting and building a secure attachment come together in real life, and how the way you deal with your child’s minor mistakes in the early years can shape how they feel about themselves and what their relationship is like with you for their whole lives.

So what happened?

The answer (of course) is C… I chose to Stop, Drop and Breathe (one of the best parenting tools I learned about in my training with the wonderful Dr Laura Markham).
I counted to 100 (10 wasn’t enough for me to calm down), and chose to choose moving forwards with love.
Of course, I could’ve shouted, of course, I could’ve punished him – after all how else will he learn not to do it again…?
But let’s look at this objectively… He didn’t do it on purpose, he wasn’t flailing around with a toothpaste tube like it was a hosepipe.
It was a genuine mistake, and I could see he felt bad. So what benefit would shouting have?
What would taking a toy from him or removing the TV for a week have ‘taught’ him? Neither has any natural link to the event.
Instead, we wiped it up as best we could and talked about what should have happened. He already knew he should stay in the bathroom whilst he brushes his teeth. There you go, lesson learned without shouting or shaming or punishment.

Does shouting really matter?

As parents, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, we lose our cool and yell at our kids.
It’s important to remember that this is normal, for us to lose control sometimes, but if this is a regular pattern in your parenting style it’s also important to be aware of the long-term impact.
One of the most serious consequences of yelling at our children is that it can discourage them from coming to us with their problems, or if they make a mistake. When children are yelled at for making mistakes, they learn that it’s not safe to share their problems with their parents.
This can have a devastating impact on the child’s relationship with their parents and on their overall emotional development. Children who don’t feel comfortable coming to their parents with their problems are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. They are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as substance abuse and self-harm
If you want your child to come to you with their problems in later life, it’s important to create a safe and supportive environment. This means avoiding yelling and other forms of harsh discipline or punishment.
It also means being willing to listen to your child without judgment and offering them support and guidance.

What do do instead of shouting

I hear you, it’s not easy. I get it, this kind of calm reaction isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally. But we are the adult and we should be able to find a way to control our feelings. It does take practice and a conscious choice (and you won’t always get it right!).
Here are some tips for responding to your child’s mistakes in a constructive way:
  • Take a deep breath and calm down before you say anything. Yelling will only make the situation worse.
  • Choose to move forward with love
  • Look at them for who they are. Really look at them, how little they are still, recognise they are not fully developed, can’t always resist their impulses and don’t have even half the life experience you do.
  • Talk to your child about the mistake in a calm and respectful tone. Explain why the mistake was wrong and ask them what they could have done differently/do next time.
  • Reassure your child that you still love and accept them, even if they make mistakes.

If you do end up shouting, the connection between you is temporarily broken, but it can be fixed. Often the repair is as important as the rupture. So if you do end up shouting or handling a situation in a way you’re not proud of, then you can apologise, and try to rebuild the connection. 

It’s also important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are a normal part of the learning process. By helping our children to learn from their mistakes in a healthy and constructive way, we can help them to grow and develop into confident and well-adjusted adults.

Remember, if your kid is happy coming to you and saying ‘Mum I just spilt toothpaste on the carpet’ without fear, then it’s more likely that in the future they will feel comfortable saying ‘Mum, my friends are planning something and it doesn’t feel right to me or ‘Mum, something is going on at school and I’m scared’.